It’s official now — George Frideric Handel made it so. I am speaking, of course, of the Messiah, which has become the ubiquitous herald of the Christmas season in English-speaking lands, even if Handel composed it for Easter.
As has become customary, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra joined forces with the Southwestern Seminary Master Chorale and four vocal soloists on Monday night to sing in the season. David Thye conducted in Bass Hall.
Although one occasionally hears timid expressions of Messiah fatigue this time of year, it’s easy to see why Handel’s oratorio remains a musical champion at 274 years and counting. It’s got a fantastic parade of choral hits and some beautiful vocal solos, and the biblical text has become so welded to Handel’s music that, to those who know Messiah, it’s impossible to listen to or read the Scriptures quoted in the oratorio without hearing the music associated with them.
It’s the choruses, above all, that make the Messiah great. The oratorio was in good hands on Monday night. One might be a little picky — for instance, some individual voices took some of the smoothness out of the choral blend — but by and large, the great choruses made the expected impact.
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“For unto us a Child is born,” “Surely He hath borne our griefs,” “Since by man came death” and, of course, “Hallelujah” were a thrill.
There was a decent quartet of soloists: soprano Jennifer Chung, alto Kathryn Findlen, tenor Ben Caston and baritone Charles Wesley Evans. I was particularly impressed with the lyric quality of both Caston’s and Evans’ voices.
The evening lasted a little longer than planned because the large audience applauded almost every number, of which there are many in this oratorio. I’m guessing many in the audience were new to Messiah. Lucky them.
The audience did follow tradition by standing throughout “Hallelujah.”